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Issue 104 - Taking the Floor

Whisky Magazine Issue 104
June 2012


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Taking the Floor

Ian Wisniewski looks at the rise of commercial maltings, and how they compare to floor maltings

Traditionally distilleries malted barley on their own floor maltings, but commercial maltings have supplied most of the industry's requirements since the 1960s and 70s. That's when rising demand for Scotch whisky meant distilleries had to decide on the best way of increasing production levels. The options were either to extend the amount of floor maltings and malt larger quantities of barley, or to invest in additional mashtuns, washbacks, stills and aging warehouses, and order from commercial maltings instead. Most distilleries chose the latter option and closed their malting floors. Commercial maltings had developed highly automated, cost-effective production regimes, enabling them to offer very competitive prices, and as malted barley accounts for 55 to 60 per cent of the cost of producing new make spirit, price is obviously vital.

Malting begins with steeping (soaking) barley in water, increasing the moisture level from around 12 per cent to 40- 45 per cent, prompting germination. Each grain contains numerous ‘packets' of starch enclosed within cell walls, and germination triggers the release of enzymes that break down these walls and enter the starch (this is vital when subsequently producing new make spirit, as enzymes break the starch down into sugars during mashing).

Following germination the barley is dried using heat from a kiln. Peat can also be added to the kiln, creating smoke which is absorbed by the barley, essentially while the husk retains surface moistur...

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